US winemakers may soon benefit from the ultimate height advantage in the battle to capture the world's wine market, if initial tests of NASA-owned technology prove successful.

The US's famous space agency is the unlikely new ally of California's wine industry, with plans to use satellite images to map out vineyards and pinpoint the location of the best crops.

Photos shot 640km above the earth have already been used to examine factors such as leaf sizes and irrigation patterns.

NASA's research is part of a wider plan to find commercial uses for its technology to help fund itself.

The Napa-based Robert Mondavi Winery is reported to be partnering in the field tests.